COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — In a rare move, a federal judge rejected a guilty plea from one of the suspects accused in a scheme to steal more than $1 million dollars in public funds.

Rosalee Bassi, the mother-in-law of the scheme’s mastermind, Willie Demps, was set Thursday to admit her role in the plot. Demps and six others have already pleaded guilty.

In two decades on the bench, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land has rejected less than five guilty pleas.

It happened today.

A lot of it was lost in translation. Literally. Bassi is from the central African nation Cameroon and French is her primary language.

There was an interpreter translating the hearing via telephone.

Multiple times during that hearing Bassi told the court that she was guilty.

But each time she was asked to admit to the elements of the crime – that she knowingly cashed a check or checks given to her by Willie Demps drawn on the clerk’s account – she would not or could not do it.

At one point, Bassi told the court: ‘I understand the accusation, but I was used by someone else.’

That someone else was Willie Demps, who worked in the Superior Court clerk’s office for nearly three decades. He would write checks on the clerk’s account and get others to cash them at local banks.

Bassi’s guilty plea would have meant all of the parties to the crimes would have admitted guilt.

But it didn’t happen.

Bassi would not say that she knew the funds were stolen. And she said she cashed the checks because her son-in-law owed her money.

At one point Land said, “If that is true, she did not commit a violation of law.”

Eventually, Land said there was no way he could possibly accept the guilty plea without admission to the details of the crime.

He then set a trial date for March 21.

Superior Court Clerk Danielle Forté was trying to process the outcome after the hearing.

“It was a surprise. Definitely a surprise,” Forté said. “… The only defendant that me and my office are familiar with is Willie Demps. All the other codefendants I am not familiar with at all. I wish I had an explanation for what happened. Unfortunately, I do not.”

Bassi’s attorney Pete Temesgen declined to comment as he walked out of the federal courthouse with his client.

Demps, Curtis Porch, Dereen Porch, Terry McBride, Lamarcus Palmer, George Cook, and Samuel Cole have admitted their roles in the conspiracy. They all face sentencing in early June.

Previous Coverage

Aug. 18, 2021: Exclusive: Former Muscogee County Superior Court employee, and others under federal indictment accused of stealing public funds

Aug. 19, 2021: Willie Demps appears in federal court to face charges that he stole nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County court funds

Aug. 24, 2021: Two men accused of stealing nearly $500,000 in Muscogee County public funds get court-appointed attorneys

Aug. 25, 2021: Court testimony: Former Muscogee County deputy clerk was wiring large sums of money to Africa

Sept. 21, 2021: First guilty plea comes out of federal case where former deputy court clerk, others accused of stealing $467,000 in public funds

Oct. 5, 2021: Circle tightens on Willie Demps in Muscogee County federal fraud case as two more codefendants plead guilty

Oct. 27, 2021: Fourth guilty plea comes from Muscogee County public funds conspirac

Nov. 30, 2021: Two more guilty pleas in federal case involving theft from Muscogee County Clerk’s Office

Jan. 31, 2022: Former Muscogee County court employee Willie Demps to appear in court Tuesday, could enter a guilty plea

Feb. 1, 2022: Former Muscogee County Chief Deputy Clerk pleads guilty to felony charges